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Turkeys, Thanksgiving, and Motor Vehicle Accidents in Massachusetts

In Massachusetts the wild turkey population is out of control. Sure, it’s sometimes delightful to see wild turkeys, especially this time of year, in suburban, and even some urban places.  But what about if they cause someone to swerve off the road and cause a motor vehicle accident?

Turkey History in Massachusetts

When the Native Americans shared “Thanksgiving” with the immigrant Pilgrims, they allegedly included wild turkeys with their feast.  As you know, this was the Eastern wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo silvestris) which was prevalent throughout Eastern North America at that time.

By 1851, however, there was a paucity of native wild turkeys in Massachusetts due to habitat loss. (The farmers and the turkeys were not friends.)  However, in the 1970s, biologists released 37 turkeys from New York in the Massachusetts Berkshires…by 1991, the turkey was named the Massachusetts official “game bird” (not to be confused with the Massachusetts official “bird” which, of course, is the Black-Capped Chickadee).

What other states have Meleagris gallopavo silvestris as their official game bird?  Alabama, Oklahoma, and South Carolina.

While most of us enjoy the Bald Eagle as our national bird, Ben Franklin clearly desired the turkey to be so, even assuring us that the turkey would be beneficial against the British:

“For in Truth the Turkey is in Comparison a much more respectable Bird, and withal a true original Native of America… He is besides, though a little vain & silly, a Bird of Courage, and would not hesitate to attack a Grenadier of the British Guards who should presume to invade his Farm Yard with a red Coat on.”

Turkeys Causing Motor Vehicle Accidents in Massachusetts

There are several documented motor vehicle accidents in Massachusetts that can be attributed to wild turkey behavior.  One, in Peabody, resulted in a two-car accident with extensive property damage and necessitating the Jaws of Life to be utilized by the fire department.  There were 60 turkey related police calls in 2016 in Boston alone.  In Brookline, Somerville, and Belmont, there were 137 turkey related police calls last year!

It is hard to file a personal injury or motor vehicle insurance claim against a wild turkey; to our knowledge they remain uninsured.  However, if someone is following too closely behind a vehicle that stops for a turkey, the driver of that vehicle may be responsible for personal injury.   We are sure you can envision other such scenarios.

It’s important to be aware of turkeys, and not only this time of year!

What About Suing the Neighbor For Feeding the Turkeys?

Let’s say your neighbor, who we will call Tom, who is lovely in most all respects, insists on feeding turkeys, resulting in a flock of turkeys milling about the neighborhood.  As you know, turkey broods come out around June, with up to a dozen jake (male) and jennys (female) in their flock.  They can be distracting.  But if Tom is feeding them, and they develop a pattern of walking across the street to his house, AND you warn him that this is causing a traffic problem…it’s possible that the traffic problem results in a motor vehicle accident, there could be liability.  Perhaps.

Interestingly, under the above hypothetical, Tom’s Massachusetts homeowner’s insurance may be the policy that is involved, as the accident did not arise out of Tom’s “use” of his motor vehicle.

This could be a tough case.  But with photos of the “rafter” or flock of turkeys, and proof that Tom was warned, some liability is created.  How the Courts in Massachusetts would respond, could be interesting, if not fascinating.

Call Attorneys Burns & Jain For Advice on Personal Injury

Neither Attorney Neil Burns nor Attorney Roshan Jain has litigated a turkey case with the exact fact pattern described in the hypothetical above.  Nor are we seeking to be the Massachusetts turkey accident lawyers.  However, in every season, especially Thanksgiving Season, we do want to warn our clients, friends, and colleagues to be careful when they are driving.  WEAR SEAT BELTS, DON’T GET DISTRACTED, BUY SUFFICIENT UNDERINSURED COVERAGE, and DRIVE, WALK, and BIKE DEFENSIVELY!